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My Grandfather's Knocking Sticks

My Grandfather's Knocking Sticks

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Ojibwe Family Life and Labor on the Reservation

Brenda Child

Minnesota Historical Society Press (December 1, 2014)

Explores the innovative ways Ojibwe men and women on reservations around the Great Lakes sustained both their families and their cultural identity in the face of extreme prejudice and hardship.


When Ojibwe historian Brenda Child uncovered the Bureau of Indian Affairs file on her grandparents, it was an eye-opening experience. The correspondence, full of incendiary comments on their morals and character, demonstrated the breathtakingly intrusive power of federal agents in the early twentieth century.

While telling her own family's stories from the Red Lake Reservation, as well as stories of Ojibwe people around the Great Lakes, Child examines the disruptions and the continuities in daily work, family life, and culture faced by Ojibwe people of Child's grandparents' generation—a generation raised with traditional lifeways in that remote area. The challenges were great: there were few opportunities for work. Government employees and programs controlled reservation economies and opposed traditional practices. Nevertheless, Ojibwe men and women—fully modern workers who carried with them rich traditions of culture and work—patched together sources of income and took on new roles as labor demands changed through World War I and the Depression.

Child writes of men knocking rice at wild rice camps, work customarily done by women; a woman who turns to fishing and bootlegging when her husband is unable to work. She also recounts that one hundred years ago in 1918-1919, when the global influenza pandemic killed millions worldwide, including thousands of Native Americans, a revolutionary new tradition of healing and anti-colonial resistance emerged in Ojibwe communities in North America: the jingle dress dance. All of them, faced with dispossession and pressure to adopt new ways, managed to retain and pass on their Ojibwe identity and culture to their children.

Author information

Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe) is Northrop professor of American studies and American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota, and curator of the new exhibit at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, "Ziibaaska’ iganagooday: The Jingle Dress at 100". She is the author of the critically acclaimed children's picture book, Bowwow Powwow illustrated by Ojibwe artist, Jonathan Thunder which features a jingle dress dancer. She has been featured in Indian Country Today, Native America Calling, Minnesota Public Radio, and has lectured at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks is an original and perceptive history of labor and economic survival on the Red Lake Reservation. Brenda Child considers hard work and communal enterprises, men and women in fisheries, rice harvests, and jingle dance healers in generous, heartfelt, and documented stories.”
Gerald Vizenor, author of the historical novel Blue Ravens

“Professor Child lovingly shows the spirit, creativity, and work that went into earning a living and into reproducing family and community even as she captures the costs of dispossession.”
David R. Roediger, author of Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White

“This engaging, and moving, family memoir traces Red Lake history through wonderfully told stories. It reminds us of the essential power of family, labor, and personal narrative, and the way memoir can decolonize scholarship.”
Brian Hosmer, author of American Indians in the Marketplace: Persistence and Innovation Among the Menominees and Metlakatlans, 1870–1920

In the Media:
New York Times Opinion by Brenda Child: When Art is Medicine

Indian Country Today, The Circle, TPT's Almanac, MPR’s The Daily Circuit, Native America Calling, the Star Tribune, KUMD’s Northland Morning, Minnesota Women's Press, Transmotion, the Bemidji Pioneer.

Winner of the Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award

Winner of the Jon Gjerde Prize for best book authored on a Midwestern history topic, awarded by the Midwestern History Association

Winner of a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)

Jingle dress dance

Brenda J. Child is a global expert on the history and significance of the jingle dress dance. A chapter in My Grandfather's Knocking Sticks, "Jingle Dress Dancers in the Modern World: The Influenza of 1918-1919," details her research.

She was featured in media reports and videos relating to the jingle dress tradition on such platforms as Minnesota Public Radio, Twin Cities PBS, Indian Country Today, Native American Calling, and Minnesota Good Age.

Child is also the curator of the exhibit, "Ziibaaska’ iganagooday: The Jingle Dress at 100," on display at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post.

Lecture by Brenda J. Child at Montana State University: "Jingle Dress Dancers in the Modern World" (video)

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 248 pages
  • 30 b&w photos, notes, index
  • 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873519243

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